Three ways the Miami Heat's off-season movement affects the Lakers
1. More pressure
As if they needed another reminder, the pressure to three-peat will become more enormous for the Lakers to defend their 2009 and 2010 titles. The Lakers should be well aware that Miami has formed this super team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Lakers in mind, even if James won't admit it. And everything the Lakers do during the course of the season inevitably will be compared to how Miami is doing.
It's safe to presume that the Lakers will play Miami next season in one of the league's showcase Christmas Day games, which probably will provide a preview of the NBA Finals. My money's still going to the Lakers because Coach Phil Jackson is returning, the team's core is still intact (sans Derek Fisher, at least for now) and the team will be more rested. Even though I criticized the Lakers for their up-and-down effort last season, I think part of that had to do with the genuine concern that a fatigued and injury-plagued team tried to do enough to get by without pushing itself toward exhaustion and pain. That also largely contributed to the team's chemistry problems during the regular season and at least the beginning of the postseason. There surely will be times when the Lakers will go through the motions. It's a long season, after all. But with Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol taking it easy this summer, it literally won't be as painful for the Lakers to fight through.2. Less pressure
In a way, however, the Lakers enter the 2010-11 season facing less pressure. With the spectacle that James and ESPN made "The Decision" out to be, every ounce of success and struggle the Heat go through will be endlessly scrutinized. There will be endless debate about whether James made the right decision. There will be endless debate about whether James, Wade and Bosh are clicking quickly enough. And there will be endless debate about whether they have enough to unseat the two-time defending champs.
It's no coincidence that the Lakers have enjoyed a quiet off-season compared to the lunacy surrounding the speculation on where James, Wade and Bosh would ultimately land, and that's going to follow them through the season. There will also be more teams in the Eastern Conference fixated on unseating Miami. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert expressed immaturity in an open letter that expressed as much classlessness as James displayed in the special, rallying Cleveland fans behind the claim that the team will win a championship before "The King" does. All of the other Eastern Conference teams that missed out on the LeBron sweepstakes -- Chicago, New York and New Jersey -- will want a shot at Miami.
Meanwhile, the Lakers face a Suns team without Amare Stoudemire and a Jazz team without Carlos Boozer. The only thing the Lakers have to worry about in the future entails Oklahoma City, which recently locked up Kevin Durant to a five-year extension. (I know you may not have noticed since Durant kept it under the radar. It seems that the path is clear for the Lakers to make a fourth consecutive Finals appearance.
3. The Lakers' off-season
-- Silver Screen and Roll's DexterFishmore recently brought up a legitimate point, saying that James' joining Miami could affect the way the Lakers approach their negotiations with Fisher. Although I expect the Lakers and Fisher to ultimately make a deal, it has been mentioned that Miami has expressed interest in Fisher, a possible destination if he doesn't get the contract he feels he deserves.
The Lakers have all expressed how important Fisher's experience, clutch shooting and locker room presence are to the team. But with Miami's lineup and the fact that it could try to entice Fisher to help them to a title, the Lakers may be more inclined to give a little more to Fisher, who had hoped for a two-year deal worth $10 million.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant with the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy as the team rides along the parade route. Credit: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times